How to manage difficult staff and ensure a productive workplace

First published in Kochie’s Business Builders on February 27.

Managing difficult staff is one of the biggest challenges you will face as an employer. These staff can distract you from what is really important which can create even more damage to a business.

Poor culture within a workplace guarantees a poorly performing business in the medium to long term. As the business owner, it is your responsibility to create the right culture and constantly address, refine and refresh it.

Fundamental to getting the right culture and dealing with difficult staff is knowing that it is a partnership, not an ‘us and them’ attitude that will transform the workplace.

Difficult staff management is more of an ‘art’ than a strict set of rules. Some key steps can be applied across all situations.

  1. Address issues QUICKLY. Don’t let situations get out of hand.
  2. Reflect on what is REALLY going on with the person at hand. By seeing the bigger picture, you may discover what the real issue is. Fixing the problem is far more effective than just covering it with a band aid.
  3. Before you take action, ask yourself is this person a key influencer? Do they have a required skill set in your business? Know their value to you.

Is this issue a short-term challenge (less than 3 months)? If yes, what has changed in their work ecology? Ask if there is another person involved or are there passive aggressive hidden behaviours going on? Are there personal issues that are contributing? Has their work load or requirements changed? It may be MORE than one issue. A gentle enquiry process of listening and asking quality questions will reveal the answer without undue pressure.

Short term issues are easier to fix. It is critical to be empathetic and stand in their shoes to see what is going on. Once you have built rapport and trust, create an action plan with regular reviews to support this person. Promises about what will change need to be kept show that you are trustworthy which will skyrocket productivity.

If it is a longer ongoing history of disruption and dissatisfaction on their part or the action plan above did not solve the issue, remember no one is irreplaceable ever. As the Business Owner, you are able to let staff ‘deselect’ and leave the business in a way that creates opportunity to do things differently. If they aren’t a good fit for a team, it relieves pressure immediately for everyone involved. There is fantastic legislation in place to support how to let disruptive staff leave with dignity and owners keep their business intact.

Remember ‘hire slow, fire fast’. It’s a game changer.


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